Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Finds: Vide-Grenier Sewing Machines & Typewriter Listings

Now it is the turn of the sewing machines that I photographed during the vide-greniers. There were a few - not as many as I expected, but they definitely made a strong showing. There are some days I feel better about shopping at vide-greniers than the flea market: there's more of an emotional connection when buying from the original owner than from some random chap who scored a heap of stuff at an estate sale and refuses to bargain or entertain offers. Not that I'm bitter or anything; I guess they have to make a living somehow. Anyway:

Peter's last post showed an Elna Supermatic that he spotted in a Zurich thrift store, and as I commented, that must have been a very popular model in the '50s because there is no shortage of them in Geneva! To put this into some context, here is an ad for the Supermatic back when it was made:

Isn't it lovely? I saw a few others:

I rather like the light green color here.

This beige color looks to be the same one in this ad:

Elna Supermatics seem plentiful in Geneva and I have read good things about them, but for space reasons I shall not be bringing one home just yet. They probably weigh a ton, too. I already have one heavyweight machine (I know, I know, post on it upcoming) and I don't foresee needing another.

The 2nd generation of Elna Supermatics was also sighted:

But lest you think Geneva is an all-Elna town (which wouldn't be surprising as their factory was here), there were a few other brands represented too:

Another Swissie - this time a Bernina 125. Nice and portable - their Grasshopper equivalent, I would imagine. I was tempted to ask after it, but it looked like it had seen better days and that was certainly not the original case.

Not Swiss but a neighbor - the German Pfaff 360. Look how sturdy this is! Solid metal with the exception of a few plastic knobs, and built to last. And purchasing one costs about the same as (ok, maybe a tiny bit more if the seller is stubborn) Ikea's sewing machine:

Umm... ok. Great for a kid, sure, I can see that. Although, I can't say that before going on my vintage kick I wasn't intrigued when I saw it at IKEA in person... now that I take a closer look, I think it is made by the same company that made my own wimpy plastic machine that I now can't bear the sight of. I think even as a back-up, I would still prefer a lovely solid metal machine with a history... some soul! Like this amazing Husqvarna:

I was sold on the beautiful hammertone-green paint finish. A real Swedish-made machine, too, unlike the above-mentioned imposter...

A couple of Singers rounded out the sighting...

Including a hand-crank one that is exactly like the ones my mother and grandmother used, although I confess I have become spoiled using an electric one. This would be the perfect counterpart to a manual typewriter but they are a whole lot less portable! Since it is unlikely one would travel much with it anyway, why not tether it to an electrical outlet and make it easier to use? That's how I see it. Unless you live in Accra with frequent power outages, in which case this is the best option.

Anyhow, moving on. This post is already long enough, but I promised some typewriter listings, so I wanted to show you a few things here and there that have caught my eye:
  • Anyone want to tell Alan Seaver that someone has pinched one of his pictures (of a Deutsche Remington) to sell a typewriter on Etsy? The funny thing is that the stolen picture does not match the description (apparently a Butler Brothers Remington No. 2), but the description is also lifted word-for-word from Alan's site. Whew. That is a lot of cutting-and-pasting! That sort of hard labor does not come cheap, either, only $350. 
  •  Speaking of Etsy, I suppose this is what the keychoppers need all those keys for - even the plastic ones that I could not imagine being used for jewelry. The seller is also using some "faux vintage" keys in his work, but I suspect a few of them are real. (Take a look at his sold items as well, it seems to be a brisk business.)
  • Even on the mannequin, this hand poised over a typewriter is in a rather compromising position...
  • I am looking forward to Robert Messenger's biting commentary on this funky atomic retro orange typewriter and the frenzied bidding it has received. mAybE I sHouLD L@@K into using random capital letters, too.
  • It is not often that I see a Swissa for sale in the US - I love how the seller does not know how to "change" it to type in cursive!
  • Finally, this is a beautiful Rooy/ Roxy - or at least fetchingly photographed. It is nice seeing a QWERTY one of these pop up every so often.


  1. Adwoa, sewing machine sightings are a nice touch, a little bit of variety is refreshing. Besides, it fits well with your blog name "Retro Tech Geneva." I'm curious though, with all these sightings, why haven't you acquired one yet?

    I try to watermark my typewriter photos, if only as a deterrent.

    I saw that Rooy listing, surely not a common occurence on U.S. ebay.

    1. Oh, I have! And I love it, and use it daily. I have just been procrastinating on putting up that massive post telling her story... but don't worry, it's coming.

  2. I was watching a movie or tv show recently where they used a hand-cranked sewing machine. I thought it looked awesome! You should get one and post pictures.

  3. Pretty interesting. I'm surprised at the Singers. It makes me wonder how distribution worked in those days. We have an old sewing machine table with a treadle in our front hall but no machine in it. the treadle turns smoothly though, so I've long thought of hooking up a generator to it for radio. Right now the Oliver is displayed there.

  4. I have 4 Swiss Elnas, including a Lotus and one of the old two-tone Supermatics. Amazing machines, and so very convenient. Also have around a dozen Berninas, which are also amazing machines but a little less convenient. These machines will outlast me. Now that Pfaff is owned by the Singer/Viking contingent, the quality of all three brands is awful. Surprise. Good part is buying one of these fine machines means you can prob use for the rest of your life! Thanks for the blog-I love it so much. Richard K/TX

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Richard K! I do hope you will check back every so often; now that I can sew at last, there will be many more posts like this in the future. Pity I can't bring more machines home (you have quite the collection!), but for now I will use the ones I have (hoping they outlast me, as you mentioned) and take pictures of others in the wild.

      Since these are, after all, electrical - with motors that wear out and carbon brushes (whatever those are and wherever one finds them) that wear down, I am not sure if mine will live so much longer as I use it a bit each day. Still, I think I would much rather keep replacing vintage with vintage than resort to the modern ones.

  5. Nice post. Seems sewing machines are as plentiful in Geneva as typewriters. Now when are you going to make your own typewriter dress?

    Brushes take a long time to wear out in most circumstances. They are still available if you can measure the size of the brush and the length of the holder. Then it is just matching the attaching lead to the one that is being replaced. Brushes can also be made or modified to fit. There is other motor maintenance that goes along with brush replacement also.

    A treadle machine would be neat and probably easier to use than a hand cranked one.

  6. Sewing machines are so cute! :) I do love Singer ones, the gold gilded ones. Mega loves.

    Other than that - I think I'd prefer the keyboard to the jewelry on etsy. :/ oh yes, We aLL sHouLD jUsT bE FUNKY and ATOMiC UpSiDe DOWn FoLK.


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